Barry Goldwater Daisy Ad

January 22, 2012 by staff 

Barry Goldwater Daisy Ad, The favourite to win the Republican nomination to run for president, Mitt Romney is suddenly looking a bit vulnerable ahead of today’s primary in South Carolina.

In spite of a comfortable lead in the conservative southern state only last week, Mr Romney apparently has lost some ground to his closest rival, Newt Gingrich, the former leader of the House of Representatives.

His problem? If campaign advertisements are to be believed, Mr Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, speaks French and so does John Kerry, a senior Democrat senator, also from Massachusetts.

That was the conclusion of an ad sponsored by Mr Gingrich’s campaign and now flooding South Carolina. Entitled The French Connection, the ad seeks to paint Mr Romney as a closet Democrat who “would say anything anything” to appear conservative.

The French Connection is just one of a cascade of so-called attack ads – advertisements that seek to discredit another candidate’s record or character – that have featured heavily in the Republican race to run against Barack Obama for the US presidency in November.

Some come directly from the individual campaigns. Some, usually the more extreme, come from super-Pacs – ostensibly unaffiliated political action committees that can spend unlimited sums promoting any candidate or issue they want.

Candidates profess to hate them. In Iowa, Mr Gingrich decried as “unworthy of America” an ad that called into question both his political record and personal life and characterised him as “unable to transform, or even govern, himself”.

The ad was so harsh that Mr Romney distanced himself from it, even though it had been paid for by a super-Pac that supports his candidacy.

Millions are spent on attack ads even though there is no evidence they have much effect, according to Lynn Vavreck, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles. Ms Vavreck has just concluded a project studying political advertisements that finds that their effect is minimal.

“To the extent that these attack ads are working at all, the effect they’re having is gone within two to three days of being aired.”

However, people tend to learn more about a candidate’s position on issues from attack ads than they do from promotional advertising, Ms Vavreck said.

“From the perspective of, are they good for democracy: if you want an electorate that has more information, then, yes, these attack ads are providing that.”

Negative campaigning has a long history in America. In 1828, supporters of the incumbent John Quincy Adams tried to paint Andrew Jackson as immoral because he had mistakenly married before his intended spouse had finalised her divorce. Jackson, in turn, accused Adams of using public money for gambling equipment – later revealed to be a chessboard and a pool table. Jackson won the election easily.

Technology ushered in new tools for delivering attack messages. In 1964, an ad for Lyndon B Johnson cut from footage of a small girl picking petals off a daisy to a nuclear explosion to suggest that voting for Barry Goldwater could lead to nuclear war.

In “the aggregate”, said Jeffrey Weiss, a Washington-based political consultant and veteran of several Republican campaigns, history suggests negative campaigning works. And attack ads work, he said, because they “define the other guy”.

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